Chen Baiqing, MA , Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
Li Shangyin, a Tang Dynasty poet, adapted the myth of Chang'e flying to the moon and wrote, “Chang'e must surely regret stealing the potion / Brooding night after night o’er black sky and blue ocean.” The stage play Moon Lovers also takes the poem as a starting point and adds a question mark: “Did Chang'e regret stealing the elixir?” If she has no regrets, then there is no right and wrong. This is the story that directors Zhao Qiyun and Huang Chengyu wish to tell: “This is a story about choosing, and there are no right or wrong choices.”
Moon Lovers retains the mythical characters, Chang'e and the Jade Rabbit, but situates them in a modern city and uses their interaction to challenge mainstream social values. This is a story about “identity”, with two lovers, one a housewife and the other a high-school student. It is a story about gender: two women who fall in love. And it is a story about age, with different generations coming together across the age gap. In its language, the play intertwines Mandarin Chinese and Taiwanese to create a broad emotional palette of sound and meaning. But when people fall in love, it transcends all else.
Moon Lovers has an ingenious structure that uses flashbacks and opens the first scene with what is in fact the story’s end. This brings the “final” rupture and death into a sharp focus, which the unfolding plot then proceeds to soften. The audience cannot help but ask, “How did they come to this? What is it that forced them to walk, step by step, into this lightless place?” When the end comes around once more, recapitulating the beginning, the inevitable conclusion brings the characters’ struggles with love and self-identity into sharper focus. At the same time, the play’s latent themes of the narrowness of social mores and the rigidity of sexual identities are now fully revealed .
Moon Lovers is adapted from “The World is a Rose,” a short story by Zhou Fenling, who described her creative process as follows: “I’m building a woman’s era, a woman’s realm.” Apart from adding passages to explore female destiny and desire, the stage adaptation also uses multiple visual motifs to showcase feminine qualities.. For example, symbols of femininity abound: water, hair, the moon and so on. Nor are issues of physical intimacy evaded: the actors use sensuality to “give speech to the female body” as poetic lines flow onstage. In this way, they bring to life the author’s notions of female perspectives and worldviews. The pursuit of love becomes something like a one-way trip to the moon – even if it all falls apart in the end, there are no regrets.